The “animal sacrifice” question comes up for Pagans with some frequency. When politician Dan Halloran was outed as Theodish (Norse Reconstruction), several journalists were quick to mention that his Norse group did animal sacrifice. They did also reference it in context, quoting people that indicate it’s similar to Jewish Kosher meat, where the food is eaten after. ingested after.
However, somehow the combo of animal sacrifice, and the insinuations that many Heathens are white supremecists, led a number of liberals to vehemently protest Halloran, calling him an anti-Semite, Neo Nazi, among other things.
Getting back to animal sacrifice, one of the first things I was taught to say, when explaining Paganism, is, “We don’t sacrifice animals, we aren’t evil.” And yet, the sacrifice–they ritual killing and eating–of animals is not necessarily a terrible thing.
There’s a big difference between ritual (and compassionate) killing of animals that a group will cook and eat together, and animal abuse. While many Vegans might disagree with my ethical stance, I think it’s worth looking at the question of animal sacrifice and the various traditions within and connected to modern Paganism. I wonder how we, as Pagans of many different stripes, can really support one another if we don’t have an understanding of the different faiths, or of different traditions?
I think that first, as Pagans (Pagans, Heathens, Earth-Centered Spirituality, Witches, Druids, Shamans, whatever you call yourself) we have to come to an agreement on what animal sacrifice means, with an eye towards a range of ethical practices, along with the ability to communicate them.
For some, animal sacrifice is really more like a sacred barbecue.
What’s the Difference?
For me, there’s a big difference between, ritually blessing and slaughtering a cow to feed a people at a holy feast, and killing the animal as quickly and humanely as possible….and capturing a cat or a goat, torturing it, and killing it, dedicating it to the gods. Both could probably fall under the words “animal sacrifice.” What’s an acceptable range of practices?
If we can have this discussion with ourselves, as Pagans, then, we can have interfaith discussions with other religions and be able to accurately offer discussion, comparison and contrast. Within the sphere of the different religions that make up Paganism, there are different approaches and views. I’ve been Pagan since I was 15 and always read or heard, “Animal sacrifice is bad, we don’t do that.” Usually “harm none” or the threefold law was cited, although that isn’t a moral code that every Pagan tradition follows.
Also, I consider my Pagan ancestors in Ireland and Germany. Do I believe that “harm none” was something they upheld as a value? Nope. Not by a long shot. In a tribe of ancient Pagans, they were often fighting other tribes of other ancient Pagans, possibly of the same general religion. Their tribal witch/shaman/druid probably served several different types of functions within these conflicts. They may have actively taken up a blade to defend the tribe, or they may have blessed their warriors, or been asked to curse the enemy tribe or offer spells to give their tribe’s warriors the power to overcome the enemy.
The word sacrifice means to make sacred. I’m a pantheist, so I don’t believe I can “make” an animal sacred, since it’s already a part of the divine flow of life force just the same as I am. But I can honor its sacredness. I can honor how that animal gives its life to be part of the cycle. Just as I thank the plant I harvest fruits or flowers from, I can honor the animal.
My understanding of both Kosher and Hallal meat is that the animal is expected to be raised in humane conditions, and the animal is blessed as it is slaughtered, and it’s slaughtered as quickly and painlessly as possible. I’m sure there are other details and considerations, but I’d consider this to be a sacrificial animal–the animal is being blessed to a deity and being offered as a sacrifice to the people that follow that deity.
I believe that if more people in Western “civilized” countries had more of a messy interaction with the food that goes into their bodies, whether growing vegetables or slaughtering their own animals on occasion, we’d have an easier time using less resources and trying to conserve resources to protect the ecosystem of our planet.